Fisheries & Fish Industry

DNR floats new fee for hikers, costlier hunting and fishing licenses

DNR floats new fee for hikers, costlier hunting and fishing licenses

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources is telling state lawmakers that millions of dollars in higher hunting and fishing license fees are one option for filling a persistent budget deficit, along with other options such as charging non-hunters for admission to about 600 wildlife and natural areas.

A one-time increase in some licenses or smaller annual increases tied to the consumer price index are alternatives that should be weighed carefully because of the risk that higher prices would discourage demand, DNR deputy division administrator Eric Lobner said Tuesday. 

In a report to the Legislature’s budget committee, the DNR outlined alternatives that also include cuts to wildlife and fish-stocking programs and new efforts to interest more people in hunting and fishing.

The department has been scrutinizing other states that have had success in attracting and retaining license buyers, said Lobner, who authored the DNR report.

A leading legislator responded skeptically about fee increases and suggested that simplifying hunting and fishing rules, including safety requirements, would help sell more licenses and boost revenue.

The DNR report also discusses creating an entry fee for wildlife areas that would be paid by hikers, cross-country skiers and others who don’t hold hunting or fishing licenses, Lobner said.

Wisconsin residents hunt and fish avidly compared to other states, but the numbers of licenses sold has been decreasing, creating a deficit in the department’s budget, the report says.

The 46-page DNR report was compiled in response to a state budget provision calling on the DNR to offer options for filling the deficit. The report is dated Friday. It was released by the Legislature on Tuesday. 

Among the other options the DNR presented are new ways to package and market licenses. 

The representative who will chair the state Assembly Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage Committee this year questioned the wisdom of fee increases and said the state needs to make hunting and fishing easier so that more people participate.

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“If we help promote a climate that encourages new hunters and fishermen and women, the revenue shortfall goes away,” said Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc. “Make it easier to hunt and fish.”

Kleefisch suggested eliminating requirements for tagging carcasses, attracting participants at younger ages, and simplifying rules for hunter safety, including prohibitions on crossing railroad tracks to gain access to hunting grounds.

“You show people there’s a reason to get off the couch and away from the video games and into the great outdoors,” Kleefisch said.

State Journal reporter Matt DeFour contributed to this article.

This article will be updated.